Sandro Botticelli Artist Biography

Sandro Botticelli produced an enormous volume of work for a painter of his time. He seemed to have a considerable reputation during his lifetime, but was largely forgotten until the Pre-Raphaelites rediscovered his technique, particularly his depiction of women.

Early lifeSandro Botticelli was born in Florence, Italy in 1445. He learnt his craft from Filippo Lippi, who was to be the most important influence on his work. Indeed, you can notice on his earliest works such as 'Madonna and Child in an Archway' (c.1470) and 'Madonna and Child with Two Angels' (c.1470), traits picked up from Filippo Lippi, most noticeably the innocent visages of the women. Yet as well as Lippi, the Pollaiuolo brothers and Verruchio also made a strong impression on the artist.

A leading family in Florence, ‘the Medici family’ took notice that Sandro Botticelli's work became more assured and they were to become one of his most consistent patrons, commissioning many family portraits – unfortunately many of which have been lost. Amongst the three paintings that did survive, however, 'Primavera' (1478) and 'The Birth of Venus' (c.1481) are often regarded as Sandro Botticelli's most accomplished works.

Influence and worksSandro Botticelli built up a great reputation for his religious work and spent a considerable amount of time working for the Church. For example, he produced 'The Adoration of the Magi' (c.1481). Heavily detailed with elaborate architectural representations and also featuring highly expressive figures set in a religious context, this painting contains many of the themes that were to recur in much of Sandro Botticelli's work.

In 1481 to 1482, Sandro Botticelli was invited to work on the decoration of the famous ‘Sistine Chapel’ in the Vatican, painting alongside Perugino, Rosselli and Ghirlandaio.  Back in Florence in 1485, he painted 'The Bardi Altarpiece' in the Santo Spirito church. In it one can see the decorative quality that Sandro Botticelli mastered so completely, with the artist focusing on the ornamentation as much as the actual content of the painting.

Sandro Botticelli also produced a great number of decorative frescoes, for example 'Venus and Mars' (1487). In 1491 he was commissioned to decorate the vault of the Chapel of St. Zenobius in Santa Maria del Fiore and four years later painted a fresco of St. Francis in the dormitory of Santa Maria di Monticelli.

Final yearsBy the turn-of-the-century, Sandro Botticelli had returned to the Gothic principle in that the most important character of the composition was largest in scale. He also abandoned modern architecture in favour of rural elements used to frame the subjects.

Thus 'The Mystic Nativity' (1500) is non-realistic and, although bringing together various stylistic themes from earlier works, the painting is unusual in that it was painted in oil on canvas rather than tempera on panel. It is seen as one of his most personal works, indeed it bears a cryptic inscription that implies Sandro Botticelli felt the apocalypse was close.

After his death, his name all but disappeared until the late 19th century, when a developing appreciation for Florentine arts and culture brought about a renewed interest in his work.

Reference"His world is a strange one - a world not of hills and fields and flowers and men of flesh and blood, but one where people are embodied ecstasies, the colour tints from evening clouds or apocalyptic jewels, the scenery a flood of light or a background of illuminated gold."

John Addington Symonds.

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